Tag: Dani Rodrik

On Trade

You’re talking history, right? I’m talking now. Because down here, it’s still “Who’s your old man?” ‘Til you got kids of your own and then it’s, “Who’s your son?” But after the horror movie I seen today… Robots! Piers full of robots! My kid’ll be lucky if he’s even punchin’ numbers five years from now. And while it don’t mean shit to me that I can’t take my steak knives to Dibiago and Sons, it breaks my fucking heart that there’s no future for the Sobotkas on the waterfront!

~Frank Sobotka, The Wire

One of my favorite concepts in economics is the Theory of the Second Best.  While it can be a bit technical, in summary, the theory is that if, for whatever reason, the required conditions for the optimal outcome are impossible to achieve, the second best outcome may require deviating from the conditions which were required to make the optimal outcome possible.  To use an analogy, most Democrats preferred ranking of the last three candidates for President was Obama, Clinton, McCain.  But one of the required steps to the optimal outcome of Obama’s election was his nomination, which made the second best outcome impossible.

The second-best problem is one which has particular resonance for me as a libertarian.  Many libertarians allied themselves for years with the Republican party, to try and establish the required conditions for a libertarian state.  However, the outcome of a libertarian state is further away than ever; responsibly, a libertarian must consider which of the desired conditions for our optimal outcome are negotiable in order for us to achieve our second-best outcome.  Of course, this is hardly only true for libertarians.

Economists on Denmark

Economist Dani Rodrik excerpts from economist Robert Kuttner’s (subscription only) article about the transferability of the Danish economic system with interesting results.

Does Denmark have some secret formula that combines the best of Adam Smith with the best of the welfare state? Is there something culturally unique about the open-minded Danes? Can a model like the Danish one survive as a social democratic island in a turbulent sea of globalization, where unregulated markets tend to swamp mixed economic systems? What does Denmark have to teach the rest of the industrial world?

These questions brought me to Copenhagen for a series of interviews in 2007 for a book I am writing on globalization and the welfare state. The answers are complex and often counterintuitive. With appropriate caveats, Danish ideas can indeed be instructive for other nations grappling with the enduring dilemma of how to reconcile market dynamism with social and personal security. Yet Denmark’s social compact is the result of a century of political conflict and accommodation that produced a consensual style of problem solving that is uniquely Danish. It cannot be understood merely as a technical policy fix to be swallowed whole in a different cultural or political context. Those who would learn from Denmark must first appreciate that social models have to grow in their own political soil.

Both Kuttner and Rodrik conclude that while Denmark’s model is not easily transferable, the ideas there are too important to be dismissed by the US.  What is most interesting about this is that while Kuttner is a liberal, Rodrik is more center-right.  Worth reading Rodrik’s post at the least.